What are soft skills? And why are they so important? (Video)

Posted on: June 18, 2020

This 9 minute video explores: What are soft skills? And why are they so important?

Video script

Hi. I’m Kim Tasso.

I am sure many of you are worried about the onward march of technology – things like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and the impact these may have on your future. Will my job be automated? Will I be replaced by a robot?

In his 2019 book “The Human Edge”, Greg Orme  presented convincing evidence that the vast majority of existing jobs will be threatened by AI. He reported on a large survey of US employers which revealed that 72% of people were worried about AI.

Today I’d like to talk about the difference between hard skills – depicted here by my robot friend.
And soft skills – and I’m using my red and black fluffy worry monster here to show those.

Worry – caused by anxiety – is just one emotion we humans experience. Apart from the fictitious Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy robots don’t worry or experience emotions. In this short video I’d like to show you that soft skills (worry monster) have a lot of benefits over hard skills (robot) – and can actually help you Robot-proof your future.

But first we’ll consider why soft skills are important and what they are.

Why are soft skills important?

In 2007, in a report produced with Carnegie Mellon, Stanford Research Institute revealed that in industry and commerce generally, 85% of long-term job success depends on the mastery of soft skills and only 25% on the mastery of technical skills.

Citing the WEF’s Future of Jobs, a 2018 Forbes article by Avil Beckford listed the top 10 skills demanded in 2020 as:

1. complex problem-solving;
2. critical thinking;
3. creativity;
4. people management;
5. coordination with others;
6. emotional intelligence;
7. judgement and decision making;
8. service orientation;
9. negotiation; and
10. cognitive flexibility.

A 2018 report by Bersin™ Deloitte noted that employers are as likely to select candidates for their adaptability, culture fit and growth potential as for in-demand technical skills.
Employers such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft have highlighted the importance of learnability – curiosity and a thirst for knowledge – as a key indicator of career potential.

“Jobs that rely on cognitive skills are now fair game for automation”

What are soft skills?

A ‘skill’ is easy to define: “the ability to do something well, usually as a result of experience and training”.

Hard skills are relatively easy to define – technical or professional mastery – like being a lawyer or a surveyor or accountancy or marketing professional.

Technical skills are distinct from technology skills – which are about making the best use of technology.

Hard skills include specialised knowledge and technical abilities, such as tax or patent law expertise.

Soft skills are more about emotions, relational behaviour and thinking, personal traits and cognitive skills. They are typically more difficult to measure.

Are they human skills?

In 2017 Seth Godin said: “Let’s call them real skills, not soft. Real because even if you’ve got the vocational skills, you’re no help to us without these human skills, the things that we can’t write down, or program a computer to do”.

Are they people skills?

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people”. Theodore Roosevelt 1930

“The care economy will favour those people with good interpersonal skills”. Ian Pearson, Futurizon 2008

“The simplest, and possibly the most accurate alternative for soft skills is ‘people skills’. After all, every one of these skills involves dealing with people, while hard skills can generally be put to use sitting alone at your computer”.

Are they practical intelligence?

Psychologists have identified multiple kinds of intelligence.

Most of us think about analytical intelligence – which concerns academic, cognitive or intellectual skills.

But general intelligence is not enough. Practical intelligence can mean the difference between entrepreneurial success or failure.

J Robert Baum in 2010 suggests practical intelligence is “experience-based accumulation of skills and knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge to solve every day problems”. So it could be considered know-how or common sense.

Are they commercial skills?

Commerciality, commercial skills or business nous are an understanding of and ability to make money or a profit.

This involves understanding the broader competitive environment – macro and micro economic factors and being familiar with finance and risk. Strategic and systemic thinking are important here.

But you find people with brilliant commercial knowledge who are not very good at getting on with people though – they don’t necessarily have good soft skills

Are they communication skills?

Communication skills are very important soft skills – without communication there can be no interaction or relationship.
But communication is more than simply sharing information.

A good communicator has great empathy (that’s emotional intelligence again) with other people and draws on a range of soft skills such as influence, persuasion and storytelling.

Great communicators achieve a fast and strong connection with people – they create rapport and trust quickly.

They are also very skilled at asking questions and listening very attentively to the response.

Are they emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) quotient is the technical term covering many soft skills.

• Tested alongside 33 other important skills, EQ subsumes most of them, including time management, decision-making and communication

• EQ accounts for 58% of performance in all types of jobs, and is the single biggest predictor in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence

• Only 36% of people tested can accurately identify their emotions as they happen .

• Ninety per cent of high performers are also high in EQ – people with high EQs make more money (an average $29,000 more per annum in one study).

These statistics are shown in this emotional intelligence book

Emotional intelligence has four main components:

• Recognising our own emotions (Self-awareness)
• Managing our own emotions (Self-control)
• Recognising the emotions of others (Empathy)
• Managing the emotions of others (Relationship management)

Are they attributes or personality characteristics?

There are certain qualities or attributes that are desirable in people. For example:
• Curiosity
• Decisiveness (relating to the soft skill of decision-making)
• Humility
• Humour
• Openness
• Wisdom

But personality characteristics are pretty much fixed. Yet we know that soft skills can be developed.

Towards a definition of soft skills

So soft skills cover personal, social, people and communication skills underpinned with strong emotional intelligence

How do you develop your soft skills?

Well – a starting point is to learn more about what soft skills you have and where you could improve.

There are lots of free online assessments available and I’ve reviewed books and paid-for assessments

Importance of soft skills for lawyers and the professions

I spent eight months researching the issue of soft skills for lawyers for my forthcoming book on “Essential soft skills for lawyers” which will be available from Globe Law and Business in July 2020

I interviewed lawyers from large and small law firms, human resource and learning & development professionals, technologists and psychologists,

As well as exploring the importance of old and new soft skills I also provide insight into some of the most important soft skills I have observed – along with an analysis of the different methods to develop those soft skills.

  • Personal skills – Goal setting, making an impression and creativity
  • Communications – Non Verbal Communication (NVC), active listening and storytelling
  • Building relationships – creating rapport and trust and navigating difference and diversity
  • Leadership – delegation, coaching and feedback
  • Business development – marketing, selling and relationship management

Let me finish by returning to that book “The Human Edge – our superpowers in the digital economy” Greg Orme argued that there are four skills that are distinctly human and will become increasingly important: Consciousness, Curiosity, Creativity and Collaboration.

So let’s celebrate our humanness and our emotions – and those soft skills – for they are what will make us robot-proof in the future….

Thanks for watching and listening. It’s training Kim but not as we know it

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